Leaving your partner alone with your children for six 10- to 14-day periods over 18 months might sound like a recipe for divorce—or at least a fair dose of guilt and resentment. Any EMBA program will put a strain on your family life and relationship with your partner. But is it possible to mitigate the strain, and is it worth it? Here’s my advice.

Prepare Your Partner for the Schedule During Residency and Distance Periods

Fuqua’s Global Executive MBA residencies are more intense than typical business travel. Before each residency, share a copy of the schedule with your partner. Seeing you will be spending six to seven hours in class every day reminds your partner you aren’t “on vacation.” Develop a scheduled time every day where you will commit to calling your partner.

Back home during distance learning periods, the schedule is more flexible. However, you could easily spend every waking moment you’re not at work focusing on school. During distance periods, planning and scheduling time to connect with your partner and family is crucial. I often struggle with constantly checking my phone for updates from teammates. If you are like me, I recommend putting your phone away in a literal box during family time in order to be fully engaged with them.

Jamie on a sofa with his two small kids and all are wearing Duke sweatshirts; family life

Set Realistic Expectations

Balancing a full-time job, family life, and full-time school is a tremendous challenge. In my experience, I have not been able to do everything in each area at the same time. I have shifted focus to each area at various times and managed my priorities that way. You must have lots of detailed communication with your partner and family on what events and expectations are non-negotiable. I also recommend cutting all other non-essential commitments out of your life. The program is a marathon run through a series of sprints. I am writing after the end of term 4, and I can’t believe I’m two-thirds through. Life will return to normal. This is just a difficult season.

Include Your Partner and Family in Pre- or Post-Residency Trips

Before and after the residencies, many of your classmates will plan trips. Flying to all the way to Shanghai, Santiago, and Delhi for class and not seeing the Great Wall of China, visiting Patagonia or Machu Picchu, or experiencing the Taj Mahal while you’re there seems like a waste for many. I recommend beginning the dialogue early with your partner on whether these additional trips make sense for you.

There is one residency where partners are specifically invited to join some of the activities, but outside of that, it is not recommended that your partner travel with you. However, I recommend bringing your partner and possibly your family on at least one pre- or post-residency trip with some overlap during the residency itself. During the program, you will develop amazing new friendships with your classmates. But because of the distributed nature of the curriculum, your partner will likely feel very disconnected from the experience. Therefore, I feel it is crucial to bring them along at least once and allow them to meet your classmates and connect with the experience as much as possible.

Don’t Be Surprised When Your Partner Gets Frustrated

It is essential to set realistic expectations about the level of commitment involved in the program. But in order to make the sacrifice worth it, your partner must be 100 percent on board with the decision and believe it will benefit you, your relationship long-term, and your family. But do not be surprised if your partner still gets frustrated when you are working on a team assignment late for the third night in a row, and you’re spending your weekends studying instead of with them. You need to ensure you have a shared vision of success which will help get through these tough times when they come.

Jamie with headphones on focused on his computer while his two small kids play in the background

Use this Transformative Experience to Grow Together and Not Apart

Becoming a Marine Officer was one of the most transformative experiences in my life. Joining the Fuqua community is equally transformative. In addition to the business curriculum, you will learn and grow as a leader and a person. I am a better communicator and teammate with my wife because I have applied some of the leadership and relational principles I learned at Fuqua.

But you will feel overwhelmed. My Christian faith guides my life, and I was brought to my knees with my wife when I was not sure whether I passed an exam. She was there for me and prayed for me. Ultimately, our relationship will be stronger because we have survived this stressful time together.

Jamie, his wife and two small kids posing for a selfie at a lake; family life